2020 was a landmark year, one of those that we eagerly look forward to in the past but upon arriving discover it was less than the ideal future.  Now that the year has come and gone the collective focus of humanity will be on the promises of 2026, or 2049, or 2077, or any another number with significance.  

Gnomon Level Design - Desert Level Screenshots

Screenshots don't paint a full picture when it comes to 3D levels, but I'd like to share some of the key vantage points from my desert level.

Here's the main gate that is blocked off.  The player climbs the siege weaponry to reach the top of the wall, where...

They'll see the explorable city below, and discover secrets at the Vault.

This is a room full of prop objects modeled to show off the workshop.

This particular room is where one of the artifacts is held, defended by a pair of royal wraiths.

A quiet and ominous barracks.

And lastly a look at the keep just out of the player's reach.  They'll have to find a way over the short wall to reach the key item in there! 

Cyberpunk 2077

A review of Cyberpunk would be incomplete without mention of it's launch debacle, but I'll highlight my experience here and save the marketing analysis for another post.  I managed to avoid most issues by playing on PC, and by focusing on the stealth shooter and hacking gameplay. 

Cyberpunk was my most anticipated game of the year, in part because of it's gameplay similarities to the recent Deus Ex trilogy.   It's inclusion of augmentation, an expansive sci-fi universe, and sneaky gunplay put me into the same mode of immersion and wonder that I experienced playing Deus Ex Human Revolution.  And boy was I immersed.  It was impossible for me to put down the game until I'd made my way through to the end. 

This game succeeded for me the most in it's thrilling, cinematic main campaign, and it's varied level design.  Stepping into a hostile zone meant having to be on high alert, scanning the area and concocting a plan of infiltration.  The uniqueness of each location (an underrated feat!) kept the game fresh.  It's a marvel that CD Projekt Red designed a world of that size with such depth.  It's open world density of unique, loosely isolated encounters improved on the Skyrim formula of dungeon design.

My approach was almost always to open with stealth, trying to hack, disable, and silently take down as many enemies as possible.  Naturally, my execution would not be perfect!  I'd get spotted, trigger a shootout, and have to use my pistol or rifles to clear the rest of the camp.

Each encounter, as described, followed this pattern of rising and falling tension that made every quest end with a satisfying player story. Whether I came out of the fights unscathed like a ninja or explosively in a hail of bullets, the journey through that danger was thrilling. I'd leave the battlefield feeling like a hero and walk down the street to the next quest.

That's not to say Cyberpunk 2077 was without it's weaknesses. Outside of combat, the world did not facilitate much interaction. The playspace of CP2077 only existed in a few places: encounters, driving, inventory, and photography. While it's world of Night City was a sprawling metropolis, the most intricate action a player could do within it was to "Press [F] to pick up an item". It's a big disappointment because so much of the city is designed to be filled with unique locales, yet it is all reduced to set dressing, just a facade. There's so much room for deeper immersion around the city districts.

Another big problem with the game was the ambiguity of the non-lethal playstyle. It was not clear whether downed enemies where sleeping or dead. It seemed there was some breathing animation but that was inconsistent and confusing at best.

The worst offense of the game has to be it's lack of responsibility in handling food that exists in its narrative. Vendors do not actually sell any of the items that they say they have during cutscenes. Claire is the worst example. She's the bartender at the Afterlife, and a big part of the appeal of that bar, is that they serve drinks named after the most famous mercenaries. There's a whole conversation about Johnny Silverhand's drink, but when I went to buy something from her, she only had generic consumables.

Later in the game, Claire invites V to grab a beer from her fridge. I scoured the room, but there were no fridges, and no beers. The game is a lie.

This is a serious case of ludonarrative dissonance, and completely threw me out of the game. My conjecture is that it's a symptom of misalignment between various teams working on the game, and that there was not enough time or resources for detailed direction to bring the project to a cohesive whole.

But it's flaws are somewhat redeemed for by the detail in the core parts of the game and its occasional exceptionally great quests. The gems of Cyberpunk are in its side content, not laid out for the player but built into the world. Players are left to discover them, either by chance or by thorough exploration.

That's the most interesting part of the Cyberpunk experience: that the memorable moments are the ones you discover in between the main story quests. These are the moments that are special to my V.

13 Years on Steam

I've been gaming on Steam since 2007, when Valve launched the Orange Box.  My christmas present that year was a PC that could play it!  That first Winter was filled with exploration in Half-Life 2, solving the mind bending puzzles of Portal, and gibbing in Team Fortress 2.

Today I'm almost up to the milestone 1000 games in library (given the Pareto distribution I've only played 20% of those). I've had many of my favourite gaming moments and great times playing with friends on Steam.  It's really succeeded in making PC gaming the most accessible platform.  A large storefront, community tools, a place to play with friends, and instant access to my games on my laptop or desktop, whichever was nearest to me.

Gnomon Level Design - Desert Project Mood Boards

Final Project for the Level Design course.  For this we're learning from the Seattle area in The Last of Us 2.  My stage is designed in a Persian fortress feel.